Gene Collier: All-Pro guard has his indelible moment with the Steelers
January 14, 2016 12:00 AM
Steelers guard David DeCastro stretches before practice at the teams facility on the South Side.
By Gene Collier / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Were the Steelers an art history course rather than a religion, their truly iconic images would be exhaustively interpreted for full appreciation — Joe Greene with a Coke, Hines Ward with a smile, Jerome Bettis with a bear named Urlacher hanging off him in a snowstorm, etc.
But those images and perhaps even the immediate history of the franchise’s art and architecture have a worthy successor this week — the searing fresh memory of All-Pro guard David DeCastro on top of Bengals’ hellion Vontaze Burfict, who is flat on his back in the seconds after DeCastro pancaked him during the Queen City riot, a.k.a. last weekend’s impossible Steelers playoff victory.
Just as Bettis’s battering of Chicago’s Brian Urlacher on that Heinz Field touchdown is interpreted as a trigger to a Super Bowl run 10 years ago, the visage of DeCastro driving Burfict into submission has a place reserved in the museum of the Pittsburgh mind.
“Yeah, it felt pretty good,” DeCastro admitted Wednesday. “With all the backstory with him and whatnot. I got a good block on him; I couldn’t hear if there was a whistle or not. He kind of popped me, but I kind of readjusted and got underneath him. He tried to throw me but I had a good grip on him.
“So yeah, it was good.”
Then DeCastro was on top of him, mask-to-mask in the mud, an image destined to be hung near dartboards in bars up and down the three rivers and probably in the halls of the Rooney complex in which DeCastro was speaking, should this playoff run get itself fully extended.
What you can’t see on the image is Burfict’s warning.
“He told me to watch my knees, and then the next play, I was coming around to pull and he tries to cut me,” DeCastro said. “I actually see him doing it, so I go down, too. We hit each other low. And then he gets up and spits in my face.”
There are probably two more dissimilar people in the NFL right now than Burfict and DeCastro, but good luck finding them.
A menace from the time he stepped on a high school field in Corona, Calif., Burfict has been allowed to cultivate a reputation for violence that knows no restraint.
A disciplined hyper-achiever who put himself on an academic track to Stanford as a teenager, DeCastro could have his own consulting business by now, but since he’s 6 feet 5 and 313 pounds and moves like a leopard, he’s instead just made his first Pro Bowl in the weeks before he turned 26.
I never understood what DeCastro actually did in the Palo Alto classrooms as a management, science and engineering major, so I took another crack at it yesterday.
“It looks like three majors but it’s just one,” he said. “I guess they thought it would sound fancy or something. It’s in the engineering department. A lot of times I would tell people finance because it’s a lot of numbers, but it was an interdisciplinary major where there was some physics, high level math stuff, computer science. There were like five tracks; I took one of the fluffier ones. It was challenging which was good. Something with the math was due every week, which I liked because I’m a math guy.”
What DeCastro is mostly is someone who can focus in a way that allows only what he can control into his viewfinder.
Asked what he thought about Burfict’s three-game suspension for the mayhem that brought down the other Pro Bowlers on this offense, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, DeCastro wouldn’t go near the question of whether three games was too many or too few.
“Out of my control; I just don’t care,” he said. “What am I gonna do? I’m not gonna sit here and worry about it.”
DeCastro no doubt considers himself too busy to worry about much. He’s focused on the Denver Broncos, but it’s no more intense than anything else that demands his focus.
“People say all the time, ‘Is this game different? Is this week different?’ No. How can you treat this game different than you did the Week 3 game? First of all, it’s football; you can’t take anything for granted. Second of all it’s the NFL. You’re gonna get humbled. There’s always something you can work on. It’s never perfect.”
When DeCastro was studious about his future, when he watched the NFL from his home in Bellevue, Wash., among the pros he felt deserved his focus was Alan Faneca, and the similarities between them remain striking.
“He was fun to watch,” DeCastro said. “He hit people hard.”
Faneca left Pittsburgh five years before DeCastro arrived, but someone had the foresight to hand the Stanford man No. 66, the jersey Faneca wore on his way to nine Pro Bowls and a Lombardi Trophy. Both first-round picks, both guards, both 66, and both with virtually the identical body.
When you consider what DeCastro’s meant to this reconstructed offensive line and to this record-setting offense, it’s not unlikely he’ll soon be regarded the way teammates and coaches revered Faneca, the guy they called Big Red.
“Do you have eight more Pro Bowls in you?” I wondered.
“I’d like to think,” DeCastro laughed. “But you know, if accolades come, that’s cool, whatever. I’m all about, ‘What am I doing today?’ ”
Time will come too soon that he’ll look back on it all, if he does. His focus might be forever forward. But there will always been a monstrously illuminating illustration, his one Burfict moment.
Gene Collier: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @genecollier.
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